As she was born so prematurely, her mother, Elrize Kruger, could barely produce colostrum to feed her fragile baby and the tiny neonate’s weight dropped to just 805g a few days after birth.
But thanks to her hospital’s human milk bank, which provided Tyla with much-needed colostrum, today Tyla is not only thriving, but this week she finally went home after spending 75 days in a neonatal ICU at Netcare Alberlito Hospital in KwaZulu-Natal. Its Ncelis human milk bank supplied the donor colostrum.
While it is standard practice for milk banks to supply donated breast milk to premature babies, it is not conventional for these banks to supply the colostrum - the first milk, that contains a rich array of nutrients, including growth factors and antimicrobials.
Produced by a mother in the initial days after birth, colostrum provides not only perfect nutrition tailored to the exact needs of a newborn, but it contains high concentrations of antibodies, which can destroy disease-causing bacteria and viruses. This form of milk introduces the newborn to over 95 different compounds that balance and stabilise the immune system, and promote normal cell growth.
Sister Eloise Strydom, unit manager of Netcare Alberlito Hospital’s neonatal ICU, said: “Babies who are compromised in some way receive the most benefit from age-appropriate human milk, particularly colostrum, and this can play an invaluable role in speeding up growth and recovery, ensuring these babies can go home to their families much sooner,”
While it is completely normal for babies to lose some weight after birth, Strydom said premature babies were particularly vulnerable to infection and various other complications.
“Very underweight babies also struggle to maintain their body temperature. So by feeding Tayla exclusively on colostrum initially and then later on donated human milk, the aim was to get her to gain as much weight as quickly as possible.”
In addition to colostrum and human milk, baby Tayla was kept in a protective bubble, her incubator being covered with a layer of cling film, to assist in keeping her warm and shielding her from noise and light.
“It is extremely traumatic for babies who come into the world prematurely as they face sensory overload. It’s important to ensure their surroundings are as stress-free as possible.
“The neonatal ICU is therefore kept warm and quiet, with subdued lighting.
“The addition of a layer of cling film to the incubator promotes the comforting feeling of being back in the womb,” adds Strydom.
On the sometimes difficult road she travelled with the neonatal nursing staff and baby Tayla, Kruger said she was overjoyed to finally be able to take her daughter - now weighing 2.1kg - home.
“I cannot thank the nursing staff enough for all the care and support they showed our family. Despite her time outside the womb, Tayla is in real time just three weeks old, but thanks to the colostrum and human milk, she’s as plump as any neonate.
“Fortunately she had an extremely good sucking action from birth, which helped. However, it is still an extremely stressful experience for any family, and all I can really say to other mothers of premature babies is to stay strong and take one day at a time,” said Kruger.
On Netcares’s recent initiative to extend its human milk bank service to include colostrum donations, Linda Pretorius, Ncelisa milk bank’s co-ordinator, said the purpose of the in-house milk bank was to ensure that as many babies as possible received age-appropriate milk.
She said the milk bank used world-class technology and was based on research from other renowned institutions, such as Onderstepoort Veterinary Institute, which had established knowledge of the bovine colostrum pasteurisation process, which currently takes place in the bovine milk banks around the country.